I am pleased to welcome you to the commemoration of the first International Day for Universal Access to Information organized by Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) in partnership with UNESCO and with financial support from the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) and IFEX.
The Day is being celebrated globally under the theme: “Access to Information in Times of Crisis”
Information is power. With only five countries against 81 that had adopted national access to information laws in 2010, Africa was lagging behind other regions yet, the impact of lack of transparency, accountability and observance of human rights in Africa was of grave concern.
AFIC and its partners under the Africa Platform on Access to Information in Africa (APAI) therefore initiated and led a campaign for the United Nations to proclaim September 28th as an International Day on which various stakeholders would reflect and lay strategies to advance the right to information for every individual.
This campaign culminated in the adoption of ACHPR Resolution 222 of 2013 by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights calling upon the African Union to proclaim September 28th as the International Access to Information Day in Africa; UNESCO General Conference Resolution 38 C/70 of November 3, 2015 declaring September 28th as the International Day for Universal Access to Information and finally the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution of October 15, 2019 that proclaimed September 28th the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).
The year 2020 edition of IDUAI is not only the first commemoration of this International Day since its proclamation by the United Nations but it also takes place at a time when the world is united in battling the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected 33 million people, killed nearly a million, devastated economies and threatens the education and future of millions of children in Africa and around the world.
This pandemic has indeed demonstrated that timely access to information can be the difference between life and death; ensuring that resources allocated for the much needed medial and logistical supplies are used wisely; intended beneficiaries of various programmes are reached, and shines the light on officials who violate Government Standard Operating Procedures and endanger people they are supposed to protect.
AFIC’s 2017 State of Access to Information in Africa Report found that only 21 countries had at the time adopted access to information laws while 34 had not. It also found that laws adopted were not being effectively implemented in spite of commitments by UN Member States under SDG 16.10.2. The report further established that many State Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights had in violation of Article 62 not presented respective State Reports on measures they were undertaking to promote and protect the right to information and other rights protected by the Charter.
The experience with the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone and DR Congo where ministers and officials diverted and shared resources meant to combat the crisis, the Boko Haram and Lord’s Resistance Army insurgencies in Nigeria and Uganda respectively where funds appropriated to fight the insurgencies were diverted and stolen, and the ghost refugee scandal in Uganda confirm the need for increased access to procurement and other information related to crisis response.
AFIC therefore commends the Governments of Uganda and Nigeria for issuing Guidelines for Emergency Procurement to ensure transparency and accountability in COVID-19 procurements. We also appreciate the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for requiring that information about procurements under their COVID-19 support be disclosed to citizens of recipient countries. We are deeply concerned however, that African governments are yet to fully disclose information regarding Covid-19 procurements.
AFIC’s recent shadow report to Uganda’s Parliament on the status of implementation of Uganda’s Access to Information Act found that the law was largely not being implemented by Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies. Denial of information was very common. The report also highlights lack of compliance by all ministers with obligation to report to Parliament annually on the implementation of the Act under Section 43. We urge the Committee on ICT and National Guidance to expedite its work and report to Parliament on the way forward.
As we commemorate IDUAI today, AFIC and its members reiterate that without public access to information the war against Covid-19 and other crises will take longer and be more costly.
We there for make the following calls:
- Thirty (30) African countries to adopt respective national access to information laws taking guidance from the Model Law on Access to Information for African Union Member States
- Uganda and 24 other African countries to effectively implement access to information laws in line with SDG 16.10.2
- Parliament of Uganda to amend the Access to Information Act and bring it in line with the Model Law on Access to Information for African Union Member States
- Other African governments to be inspired by Uganda and Nigeria to develop and implement Guidelines for Emergency Procurement during crises
- The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to support CSOs to monitor disclosure of Covid-19 response procurements y recipient countries.
- UNESCO and UNDP to support African governments adopt and implement access to information laws in line with SDG 16.10.2
I extend our deep appreciation to UNESCO for the partnership in organizing this event. I also appreciate DGF and IFEX for extending financial support for organizing this event.
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
 AFIC, The State of Right to Information in Africa Report in the Context of the Sustainable Development Goals, September 2017, 2018 https://africafoicentre.org/reports-and-publications/